Insights from a TenbyTen session with Sifted’s Deputy Editor, Amy Lewin

Journalist’s Advice for Startups & VCs

Sifted.eu’s Deputy Editor, Amy Lewin, Offers Insights

you find an opportunity to hear hard-earned wisdom from an insider of a news outlet, please take it. On August 10th, Sifted.eu’s Amy Lewin spoke with Fora x Buzzbar about trends in journalism as it relates to startups and VCs. She offered useful tips on diversifying VC and keeping on a journalist’s good side – important since reputation is gold in the age of social media.

Amy Lewin knows her material; as a reporter, she was employee number 1 of Sifted, a separate company but a Financial Times-backed news source offering in-depth startup ecosystem reporting. Now Sifted has grown to 20 people and she’s evolved into Deputy Editor.

As August is a pretty quiet month here in Europe, with most people deep into holidays or homebound by a pandemic, this is a chance to reflect on her expertise offered during a recent Zoom session. I believe her insights push us to be more inclusive in what we do and more relevant in what we write.

Lewin’s perspective is beneficial for startup founders, CEOs, HR, VCs, and communicators in general to hear. Discover actionable advice on ways of diversifying funding and telling better startup stories.

Challenging Brotopia

The Zoom session host, Paul, kicked off with the elephant in the room: that sexism is a major theme of the moment as people struggle with the “brotopia” culture that seems to have permeated part of the startup and VC space. Lewin indicates it’s worth a visit to a VC’s website to take a look at how many partners, basically the big decision-makers, are women. You’ll quickly see a trend. Even women who do reach partner level often end up coming from as privileged backgrounds as their so-called “white bloke” counterparts.

So what’s to be done? To tackle this, Lewin says we need more investors from the working class, LGBTQ+, and other diverse backgrounds. The key is to open up investment and venture capital and move in a broader spectrum of voices. (Who funds what affects innovation, opportunities, teams, and products.) Some ways to achieve this are training programs. She challenged the audience to name 5 female-led VC funds. Can you do that? Beyond the Billion and IncludedVC got a hat tip.

A compelling idea raised to bring change could be to address the LPs or limited partners; after all, VC’s need investors too. By convincing LPs that diverse leadership leads to the best companies, and they want their money to go there, might be a viable approach to opening up more access to capital.

Changing up the VC Game?

Lewin believes, and she’s not alone in this, as I’ve heard it on Arlan Hamilton’s Your First Million podcast and Sahil Lavingia’s thoughts on Twitter,

that in addition to progressing VC we also need some alternatives to it.

Lewin says the “The VC game is the VC game.” Make of that what you will. But founders should adjust their expectations; as I’ve heard from Arlan and Sahil, VC is a tool or a means to distribute capital. And this distribution needs to be just that — more evenly distributed. VC encourages companies to grow fast and capture market share. That’s good and well, but not at the expense of humanity. “Don’t break your team as you scale,” advises Lewin.

“Don’t break your team as you scale.” — Amy Lewin

In her vast experience interacting with startups, Lewis stresses the importance of prioritizing diversity, managing mental health, and treating your team or staff well. She’s a big proponent of ‘taking care of your people’. Lewin warns against becoming known as a startup with horrible culture issues as that image is hard to shake once established.

When asked for examples of who’s actually getting this right, she mentioned a startup in the “death tech” space. Apparently Farewill is steadily growing by offering online wills; they received good strategic advice and investment along the way and are now in Series B, with people wanting to work there. Another is GoCardless, who has earned respect and a positive reputation for what they write in their Medium posts.

Good News for Healthtech (and other Trends)

In terms of what trends to look out for, Lewin offers key areas to watch:

Future of Work: Obviously, with COVID-19 disrupting office environments remote work and more flexibility in work arrangements remain top of mind.

Sustainability: The pandemic brought to light much of the environmental impact that was already apparent and this deserves continued attention.

HealthTech: The industry and the need are both enormous. Lewin says there’s a “strong case to be made that Europe can grow some healthcare giants.” Just look at Babylon, Alan, and Ada Health as prime examples. She hopes that policymakers, VC, and other players will align to bring necessary advances.

“There’s a strong case to be made that Europe can grow some healthcare giants.” -Amy Lewin

Transport: It’s sexier than you may think. It’s a major topic, especially given the need to move around safely and get commodities to people who are staying put due to the pandemic. She cited the UK’s new-found openness to scooters on ‘ancient’ highways.

Food Delivery: This one’s clear enough. Grocery and prepared food delivery continue to be in high demand, as seen in Deliveroo, and I’d argue shown in Delivery Hero’s latest numbers.

How to Pitch to Journalists

So you’re waiting for her tips, right? Well, I’ve got good news; it’s a) mostly common sense, and b) Sifted already wrote a major cheat sheet.

That said, here you go:

  1. Do your research first. For example, don’t seek Sifted coverage about US-based startups. They focus on Europe; it’s even in the name, Sifted.eu.
  2. If you are a small company and want coverage, again do your homework first. Think about your company from a bird’s eye view. Ask yourself: How does your company fit into larger trends? Provide a journalist with some stats and links about what other companies are doing in your industry and position yourself as part of that ecosystem. You’ve just shifted the focus away from yourself and delivered the backbone of an article. Bravo!
  3. Sign up for the Sifted Newsletter to keep tabs on what topics and when they are covering those, and get in touch with the right person there.
  4. Build your relationship with a journalist. When you reach out to a journalist, acknowledge something you have actually read by them and why it mattered. It’s a two-way street so be respectful and provide value. Don’t just pose ‘asks’ and expect anything to happen.
  5. When asked about how startups should approach funding, Lewin points out that VC’s love being on Medium and Twitter, so go find them there. 💕Get to know their interests and focus areas. Also remember that VCs tend to “soak up information” and take a “never too early to get in touch position,” so they’ll want to get to know you and your track record prior to considering an investment.

Interestingly, these points align perfectly with what Gloria Chou, a self-made PR expert, and advocate for early-stage startups advises, so listen to her, too!

The Evolving Startup Narrative

If startups used to be society’s ‘darling,’ where are we heading now? Are startups still trusted? Yes, they are not to be confused with the larger tech giants (ahem, on trial.) Lewin notes there’s a challenge when startups enter the real world after they’ve been living in a ‘bubble.’

But here’s where Lewin says that although many people are wary of tech’s big power and influence, she still sees startups in a very positive light.

To her, startups show the promise of what’s ahead, of solutions to widespread problems — creative entrepreneurship filled with ideas that we need to support. And with that, I am totally on board. 🚀

You can listen to the full interview episode here.

Thanks for reading until the end! Feel free to 👏🏾 and follow me, Elisheva Marcus, for more from Berlin & FemGems for insights from female founders.

Reporting from within a Venn diagram of health, tech and empowerment. Berlin-based. Internationally minded. Comms @ Earlybird Venture Capital